The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Visiting Japan as a Vegetarian

Posted on May 11, 2010 by Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor

VRG is in the process of compiling a set of Teen FAQs, written by our wonderful interns and volunteers.

Today we are featuring an FAQ about visiting Japan as a vegetarian, written by VRG intern Yuko Tamura:

I'm going to be traveling to Japan with my family. What do I need to know about being vegetarian in Japan?

Japan has a lot of foods like tofu or miso, which are globally well known especially among vegetarians, however, it is actually far from a vegetarian friendly country. Though Japan had a vegetable-oriented eating style in the past, food-westernization completely changed the landscape. Now meat is found everywhere and many people believe that having meat, fish and dairy products is good for their health. Therefore, it can be challenging to be a vegetarian in Japan. In a society where animal product consumption is strongly encouraged, people tend to be prejudiced against a vegetarian way of eating.

However, we, who used to be rarely meat eaters, have developed very healthy and nutritious vegetarian food. Tofu and soy lovers will definitely get excited to see shelves filled with a variety of tofu and unique traditional soy products such as natto or yuba in supermarkets. (Natto is soybeans fermented by natto bacillus, it is sticky and has strong smell and taste. Yuba, also known as bean curd skin, is the skin that forms on soy milk when it is heated. Both are highly nutritious and good sources of protein.) These products are often served with fish and seaweed stock called "dashi" in restaurants, but when you buy and cook them by yourself, you can enjoy them without dashi. In fact, these products are delicious when you use only salt or soy sauce for seasoning. If you stay in a ryokan (Japanese traditional hotel with tatami and futon) or a hotel with cooking facilities, you can also try cooking Japanese noodles without dashi. You can season them with soy sauce and sweet sake.

Since many Japanese dishes are cooked with dashi or any kind of animal products (mainly fish and seafood), it is actually very difficult to find vegetarian dishes in Japanese restaurants. I have to tell you that the availability is limited, still, there are some. At first, you can order a bowl of steamed rice, the everyday must for Japanese. Then as side dishes, try vegetable pickles, fried tofu, grated radish, vegetable tempura, fried noodles or okonomiyaki without meat and sauce. (Okonomiyaki, or vegetable pancake, is usually made with eggs, but you may be able to ask for them prepared without eggs. You also need to ask not to put sauce, which usually contains animal products.)

Click here to read the entire FAQ.

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